I heard Matty James Cassidy’s music for the first time at the end of 2015. It was a song from his second album. I started listening to him and when I started my blog, I knew that one day I would write about him. He is releasing his next album on 28th August, so now is the time.
Matty James Cassidy is a Northern Irish multi-talented musician, who is based in Manchester nowadays. He grew up in County Fermanagh, in which the biggest town is Enniskillen, a town that seems to be a sort of hub for all Matty-related activities. He released his first album Last One To Die in June 2014 and before that he had already released two EPs. His second album, The Road To No Town, came out in April 2016.
As I mentioned in the intro, I heard Matty’s music for the very first time at the end of 2015. The exact time was 9th December of that year or should I say, 10th December as it was played exactly at midnight (Finnish time) on Dave Renegade’s Dark Heart of Camden radio show. I had commented on the song via Fb: “I love Matty James’s song” (at the time he was known just as “Matty James”). I know this as I checked it by listening to part of the show again and Dave mentioned what I had written. That was my very first contact with Matty’s music. And this was the song I heard, ‘Sticks & Stones’:
It took a while until I saw him on stage for the first time. Our first encounter didn’t predict well for the future. It was June 2016, Camden Rocks Festival. I was there with Dave Renegade who asked if I want to go say hello to Matty. I said yes and we went to see him before his acoustic set. I bought his second album, got a poster signed (thanks Dave, for the great poster that you brought with you for me!) and rushed to see someone else! (My excuse for this was that the band who clashed with Matty’s show was my friend’s band). Before leaving I promised I would come see him someday.
And that eventually happened. Since then I have managed to see Matty on stage several times, both at acoustic and full band shows. At the end of the article I will provide links to my photographic work from those gigs. Before the show at The Old Wine Vaults in Eastwood on 17th November 2018, Matty had a bit of time to sit down and answer some questions. After talking for about forty minutes about all kinds of pre-solo-career stuff etc. we’d merely scratched the surface and ran out of time. We continued the interview on 28th April 2019 at The Gas Lamp in Manchester.
(Please note that all the photos in this article can be enlarged and viewed in a new window by clicking the image, not only the small ones.)
When listening to Matty you can easily understand that there was no other path for him than being a musician. Music was present at home, even though his parents didn’t play themselves. Matty says his father introduced him to many bands and his mother had a great love for Rod Stewart, so he heard lots of music when he was a kid.
Matty started playing drums when he was about nine years old. His older brother Phil played guitar already, so they quickly started a band and in a few years began playing gigs. Matty was about twelve then. And it has carried on since, Matty notes. This guy definitely had a good upbringing!
“When we started a band at school, everyone in the band was older than me, not a lot older, two years or so, but when you are a kid, that’s a big difference”, Matty recalls. The band was together most of his school years and did hundreds of gigs, including playing with the Manic Street Preachers and some other big shows.
After school, without money or a job, Matty decided to try to do music. Around that time he was with Phil in a punkish rock band called Filthy Angels. That was the first band he sang in as well as playing bass. He also wrote most of the band’s songs. They made one album L.A.F.A. (Like a Filthy Angel) that came out in 2012. Filthy Angels never actually stopped being a band, but continuing would have been difficult as Matty moved to England. I have to say that Filthy Angels had some really great stuff and some of their songs have ended up on Matty’s later sets too. I have some personal favorites, including ‘Anti-Social Emotion’, the first song I ever heard from them, and ‘Mannequin’, written by Phil in the very early days of the band’s history.
In the early 2010s Matty made the big decision of starting a singer-songwriter solo career. But even though the paths of Filthy Angels and Matty separated, this group of people from Enniskillen have been doing a lot together music wise since then. Matty’s first two albums were recorded by John Moffatt (known as Johnny Danger in Filthy Angels). His brother Phil has been Matty’s loyal companion on records and in bands all the way ‘till the present day. “Yeah, we’ve stuck in the same little group”, Matty laughs.
How lovely that sounds; when you return home you can go to see people with whom you can do something together, like in the old days. Matty has had a sort of ideal environment, with the right people from the very beginning. He agrees totally with me. “I was very lucky in that way”, he says. He continues that there were always more experienced people around, from whom they got encouragement and support. When Matty plays on the other side of the Irish Sea, he can rely on having musicians from his old circles like Filthy Angels drummer Eden and brother Phil. (Btw, those two plays together in a Belfast based band called United Bottles).
Videos for singles
When talking about these “right people”, you have to mention another name, Ronan McGrade, photographer and videographer from Enniskillen. Matty says that he likes music videos and tries to always do a video to go with singles. When he was a kid, music videos were still played on television and they gave a visual insight into the worlds of the artists, or just a chance to see the artist, they are still an important part of music – with singles anyway, Matty says. The videos usually give a visual aspect to the lyrics and the narrative aspect is obvious, particularly in the video trilogy – ‘Sticks & Stones’ being the first part – that was created for songs on the album The Road To No Town. In an interview with The Irish World back in 2016, Matty explained that what started out as just an idea, turned “into a bit of a monster”. The other songs in the trilogy are the title track and ‘Cut With Dust’. Ronan McGrade filmed all of those videos.
“He seems to love being involved in these projects and is a pleasure to work with”, Matty says. He praises Ronan’s skills and ideas and continues that they have lots of fun working with him. The first thing they did together was a Cadaver Club video for the song ‘Lunatic In Love’ in 2013. In the area around Enniskillen, there are plenty of abandoned old places and some beautiful countryside. All of these things have been utilized in the videos. The partnership with Ronan has continued ever since.
Matty seems to be very lucky to have someone so talented capturing his (as well as Cadaver Club’s) music into visual form. Ronan knows what works for a horror punk band like Cadaver Club and then again for a solitary troubadour like Matty. The videos are shot back home, in Enniskillen. E.g. the video for ‘Anodyne’, that is included on the forthcoming album, was done at The Linnet Inn in Boho, which is located, according to Matty (and Google Maps), in the middle of nowhere, but still not far from Enniskillen. Matty talks about making this video:
They kindly opened it up for us to make the video that day, so there was nobody else there, but then the locals started walking in thinking the pub was open and sat down for a pint at ten o’clock in the morning. I was thinking, “can you not see that something is going on here”, but it didn’t seem to bother them.
Matty continues that there was one bloke, who was not at all interested that there was this “weird guy” (Matty’s words, not mine) making a music video: “He was just standing there reading his newspaper.”
Ronan knows exactly what he wants to get, says Matty, and thus the videos are shot very quickly. That suits Matty, as he says he’s the same with recording songs. He likes to work quickly to keep things fresh and close to the original idea.
If you skipped the video for ‘Sticks & Stones’ at the beginning of the article, you should scroll back up and watch it as well.
And what is this Cadaver Club that was mentioned above? It is another band that Matty and Phil are involved in. But no more about Cadaver Club, as I really do hope to write a proper story just about them one day.
But how is it to work with your brother? “It’s always been easy, really; we are quite lucky that way”, says Matty, and continues that they don’t have any problems. “We’ve always got on really well.” Phil happened to be nearby, so I asked him his take on the brotherly collaboration. ”Oh, it’s a nightmare, really awful, it’s terrible”, he laughs, but continues then more seriously that it’s fun. “We both play in bands with other people, but we’ve always had a band on the go were we play together.” Besides understanding a brother more so than you would a stranger, Phil notes one more positive thing: “When you are in a band with other people you have to be nice, but when you are with your brother you can say what you are thinking. It’s good, I like it.”
Besides his busy solo career and occasional Cadaver Club commitments, Matty plays bass in Tyla’s Dogs D’Amour (see my photo collection of a show in Wakefield in December 2017 here). He comments on this:
It’s a nice way to spend your time really, in a band playing music you love. I have always loved Tyla’s song writing, so it’s great to get to play those songs. And as I do so much of my own stuff, it’s nice to just be the bass player sometimes. I don’t have to worry, just play the bass and that’s it. We certainly enjoy ourselves.
All by myself – music with DIY attitude
Matty is a fantastic singer with a deep, dark low voice – that I really love – and a multi-instrumentalist who plays most of the instruments on his records himself. At acoustic shows he accompanies himself with a guitar and mouth organ and at electric full band shows he plays bass because he has brother Phil to play guitar. However, Matty’s first instrument was drums and he still plays drums in Cadaver Club. So I had to ask, if playing drums has a special place in his heart. “Definitely”, he replies. He says that he loves playing drums, but has never been into the singing and drumming thing, as he put it. Naturally, he plays drums on his records too. “I have never stopped playing drums.”
I didn’t choose the subheading for this chapter by accident. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers [R.I.P. Walter Lure, we heard the sad news just before publishing this article] were not the only band who recorded a song by this title, but that’s the song I had in mind. The American 70s punk influence could be heard in the Filthy Angels’ music, but has this punk mentality followed Matty to his solo career? He thinks so.
Punk is more an attitude than a musical style; the DIY attitude. Matty loves the freedom and independence of recording songs by himself, playing most of the instruments, even though, he adds, he loves having other people play on his records as well. For example, on the new album Matty is responsible for vocals, guitars, bass, drums, percussion and harmonica and then he has other people playing lead guitars and other instruments (more about the new record in another article). Matty says that this is quite an easy way for him to work. It’s kind of a habit to do it this way, but he is always open to different ideas too.
Matty’s DIY attitude led him to start his own label Pirate Heart Records (Cargo Records being the distributor) in 2012, in order to release the Filthy Angels album. Pirate Heart Records is a home for all the things he is doing. Matty really likes to do things by himself.
I guess it’s time to talk a bit about the music. Rogue folk rock ‘n’ roll is Matty’s own term for his music. It is in fact a very appropriate word – when I finally, with the help of a dictionary, managed to understand the word rogue – to depict the essential features of Matty’s songs, whether it’s the lyrics or the whole package you get. There is this element of romantic vagabond style with tattered hats and clothes – even though Matty’s appearance is far from shabby, quite the opposite – wandering along country roads and lonely alleys playing a guitar with broken strings or picking a harmonica out of a pocket to cheer up the melancholic mood (okay, I know I am wrong with the “melancholic” part, but I still like this idea). I think that in the song ‘The Road To No Town’ the lyrics describe quite well what this rogue folk is:
I come from the south of God knows where
With stories to chill your bones
Where the whiskey runs right through the town
And the streets are painted gold
Well we fight when we drink and we drink when we fight
And we fight for no reason at all
And the women here could break a man
And the men are ten feet tall
The road to no town, that’s where I’m bound
“Like you said, ‘The Road To No Town’ and ‘Gunpowder’ have a sort of roguish quality to them … But to me, it’s all based on the same stuff; it’s all three chord rock ‘n’ roll with different approaches”, Matty says. He finds it difficult to describe, as he is not stuck on one certain musical “style”. “Some stuff is kind of straight up rock ‘n’ roll, there is punkier stuff, folky stuff, Irish influenced stuff with fiddlers and mandolins.” Matty continues that he always struggled to describe it, but it’s all based on three chord rock ‘n’ roll. There are country influences too. This spring Matty released a digital country music influenced cover EP called 4 x 4 x 1 that includes a real country classic ‘The Race Is On’, written by Don Rollins and performed by numerous artists. He did that project together with his bandmate from Tyla’s Dogs D’Amour, Gary Pennick.
Briefly, Matty’s music is rock ‘n’ roll with influences from different musical styles, however, folk might be the most dominant influence. And then again, what’s folk? Is it something that Bob Dylan – one of the artists that Matty mentions when asked about artists/bands who might influenced him as a songwriter – did back in the sixties, or the folk music of different nations or… Besides Dylan, Matty also mentions names like Tom Waits, The Pogues and The Rolling Stones.
But yes, rogue folk is the package you get when you attend a Matty James Cassidy show. I think it’s still valid today.
But what about the lyrics…
There are love songs, songs about relationships, but they are not happy. That was my thought about Matty’s songs when we talked in Manchester during our second interview session. That made Matty laugh.
Maybe I read his lyrics totally wrong… Or maybe not, as he tells me that he likes to leave the lyrics – that can be personal or just something he has observed, or just about moods and feelings – quite open. Thus, he gives people a chance to form their own ideas about the songs and is not very willing to explain what he was thinking while writing a particular song. Matty doesn’t want to ruin people’s interpretations by saying, no, no, it’s not about that! One thing that attracted Matty to songwriting and songs in general is how a song can mean different things to different people. “I think that’s why people have always enjoyed listening to music; everyone can get something different out of it.”
Once the song is written and recorded and let out into the world, it belongs to the listeners, whatever they take out of it, as Matty puts it. That idea is in fact very beautiful. “It’s very hard to put into words what your words mean”, he laughs.
But it was much easier for him to explain how the writing process happens. Firstly there is an idea of what the song might be about. Matty says that most of the time it’s a very humble beginning of a title and a melody for the chorus, before working out the lyrics. The rest of the song develops when you start recording it and see what it needs, Matty explains. I don’t know anything about songwriting, but it seems that you have the same building blocks (sort of) in another kind of writing process (minus the chorus part). I mean, a great book title popped into my head and I realized that I have to do something with it. I made a book. You just need “a very small seed that grows into something else” (Matty’s words).
Matty obviously needs a flowerbed for all of these song seeds, as he is an extremely productive, hard-working man. In the spring he utilized the forced “staying home” time by writing a whole albums worth of brand new songs (well, one of them was released before, surprisingly aptly named ‘Uncertain Times’). And not just any kind of songs, but fantastic stuff. The Isolation Tapes (featuring again Gary Pennick) was released on 22nd May 2020. If you had to find one good thing to come out of the COVID-19 situation, for me it’s that release. You can read my review here.
One of the songs on The Isolation Tapes is called ‘Someone’. It was one of the songs that I paid attention to already on the first listening round. It has catchy melody and – what I realized only later – words that are quite meaningful for me. You can listen to the song by clicking the arrow below.
A special digital single version of the song was released with all the profits to be donated to Samaritans. The single’s lovely artwork by Kevin McHugh (surprise, surprise, also singer in Cadaver Club) was also printed on now already sold out merchandise to help raise more funds. I fell totally in love with the image and it’s message – we all need someone – and because of the good cause, I bought a mug even though my cupboards are full of mugs.
Matty’s third “proper” (I would say though, “planned third”) album Old Souls is out on 28th August. We have already had the chance to hear some songs from it and believe me, it is awesome. (To be honest, I’ve been listening to it a lot while writing this and preparing to do the album review).
Last year Matty published a double A-side 7” single with the songs ‘Rosary’ and the earlier mentioned ‘Anodyne’. Both songs are on the new album. But why a double A-side single? Matty says that he struggles with the B-side thing unless it’s a live track or something like that. He continues that when you make these decisions yourself, it’s very hard to decide one song for the A-side and one song for the B-side, as they are both good songs. So that’s why it’s a double A-side. He also liked the idea of creating something physical for people who still like to have a physical item. (I definitely belong to those people!). He continues that he knows that “a lot of people may just listen to music on Spotify and all the rest and that’s great too, but it’s nice to have something to hold in your hands”.
We are living in strange times. Matty had planned to go on the road after releasing the new album, but the live shows have had to be postponed until… who knows. But they are worth waiting for. I have attended Matty’s tiny acoustic shows as well as full band shows – with two different lineups. But his latest band with Phil Cassidy on guitar, Ace Carlton on drums and Bret Barnes on saxophone has been more or less permanent during the last couple of years and as Matty says, it’s a proper band rather than people just backing him.
I really do look forward to his live gigs. I have travelled a couple of times to England (or changed travel plans) to attend his shows. Last year we here in Finland even started to think about getting him and the band over to Finland. But obviously nothing happened. Matty has played acoustic gigs in the continental Europe, and has expressed a hope to get the band over too. Let’s hope that these two nuisances (COVID-19 and Brexit) won’t ruin things forever.
The last words belongs to Matty:
I am very lucky to get to do all the different things that I do and I just hope that it carries on. It’s just great to be able to do something creative with your days. Just lucky, really.
Text and photos © Katriina Etholén
Extract from ‘The Road To No Town’ © Matty James Cassidy
Matty James Cassidy’s website. From here you find all the other links (websites and social media), but let’s mention the Bandcamp site and you can follow Matty on Facebook and Twitter.
Please check the Pirate Heart Records YouTube channel and the Matty James Cassidy YouTube channel.
Links to my photo stories:
Matty James Cassidy – Photos From Four Gigs in 2017
Matty James Cassidy & Band in Wakefield, March 2018
Matty James Cassidy & Band – Photographing in the Dark (November 2018)
Matty James Cassidy in Newcastle and York (June 2019)
Big thanks to Matty!
Feature by Tales From The Brazier’s Grotto